Down Syndrome and Communication Development

Happy World Down Syndrome Day! In honour of today I wanted to explore the communication development of children with Down Syndrome. All children develop differently, and no two children with a diagnosis of Down Syndrome will follow the exact same path towards developing communication. There are, however, some common areas of communication strengths and difficulty that many children with Down Syndrome may experience.

Down Syndromeand Communication Development (2)

Social Competence

Children with Down Syndrome often have strong social skills and are keen to interact and communicate with others. From infancy, they enjoy other people and very interested in interaction. Many children with Down Syndrome will also develop strengths in their ability to make friends, show empathy and understand non-verbal social cues, like body language and facial expressions.


Kids with Down Syndrome may also have strengths in the development of their vocabulary. While early language tends to be delayed, once children with Down Syndrome begin communicating using words, signs and/or AAC, they often acquire large and varied vocabularies.

Strong Signers

Children with Down Syndrome often find it much easier to learn to communicate through signing than by spoken words, especially in the early years. Being good visual learners with a strong desire t communicate makes signing a great communication tool for little ones with Down Syndrome.

If you want to learn more about using sign language with your little one, check out my post on why you should use sign language with late talkers here.

Relative Strengths in Receptive Language

While it is common for children with Down Syndrome to experience some receptive language delays, their receptive language is often much stronger than their expressive language by comparison. As a result, children with Down Syndrome will often understand a lot more than they are able to communicate.

Delayed Early Communication

Delays in early communication development, especially spoken language, are a common experience for children with Down Syndrome. The average age range for children with Down Syndrome to develop their first word is between 18 and 30 months, and the use of spoken language as the predominant method of communicating may not happen until up to 6 years of age for some of our friends with Down Syndrome.

Grammar Difficulties

Difficulty using appropriate grammar is a common observation of the communication of children with Down Syndrome. They may experience difficulty learning syntax rules like correct word order, subject-verb agreement and how to form phrases and clauses. Children with Down Syndrome may also find it difficult to use appropriate word changes (morphology), like correct verb tenses, plurals, pronouns, etc.

Speech Intelligibility

Children with Down Syndrome often have significant difficulty with the intelligibility (clarity) of their speech, and may be difficult to understand. As a result of differences in oral structure, muscle tone and/or movement coordination, children with Down Syndrome may experience difficulty producing sounds clearly and accurately.

One Final Note…

While communication difficulties are common for many children with Down Syndrome, there’s no limit to what they can achieve, and we’re excited to celebrate that today.

Resources for Parents of Late Talkers

It can be really difficult to find information as the parent of a toddler with language delays. There’s a lot of different and sometimes conflicting and confusing information to sift through to find answers. Today I wanted to share with you some resources that I like to share with the parents of toddlers that I work with, and that I often refer to myself.


It Takes Two To Talk

There isn’t a single resource in our library that is photocopied as much as this one, it really is that full of information for children at the earliest stages of language development. Hanen is an organisation based in Canada that helps children with communication delays and their parents (and even Speech Pathologists) to communicate better. The It Takes Two To Talk Book is a complementary resource to the parent course of the same name (more info on this under Courses below), but if you’re not able to participate in the course for whatever reason, the book is incredibly helpful on its own.

This book is written for parents, and like the course is designed to make parents better at communicating with their little ones, while helping them to become experts in strategies that will facilitate communication development. It covers finding your child’s stage of development, and then using techniques and activities to meet them where they are.

My Toddler Talks

If you’re looking for ideas of language stimulating activities and routines to do with your late talkers, this is a fantastic resource. In the book Kimberley Scanlon gives parents simple yet powerful language stimulating strategies, and incorporates them into dozens of play based routines that you can easily implement at home (you probably even have a lot of the toys she suggests).

Routines are powerful tools for teaching language skills, and each play routine in the book walks you through exactly what to do. They are so detailed and simply explained that you can’t go wrong. Kimberley includes a beginning, middle and end to each activity, and each gives your child different opportunities to learn communication skills.




Hanen’s It Takes Two To Talk

It Takes Two To Talk is a parent course, designed by Hanen and led by Hanen certified Speech Pathologists, that helps parents of children from birth to 5 with language delays. Using a combination of small group sessions and one-on-one feedback sessions with a Speech Pathologist, this course teaches parents techniques and strategies to facilitate and stimulate their child’s communication development. While the accompanying book I talked about above is an amazing resource, this course expands on the information, and helps parents implement it in their own unique situations with their own unique child.



Teach Me To Talk

Laura Mize’s website is one of, if not the most exhaustive online resources for information about late talkers. Laura has over 20 years’ experience working with young children with communication delays, and she shares everything she knows to the enormous benefit of Speech Pathologists and parents alike. She also has a video series on Youtube called Therapy Tip of the Week, where she demonstrates fun little language stimulating activities you can copy at home. If that wasn’t enough, she also has a podcast dedicated to therapy for late talkers with more than 300 episodes (I’m often listening to it in the car driving between clients)!

A favourite post of Laura’s has to be this one: Receptive Language Delay in Toddlers… Advice for Parents

Playing With Words 365

Playing With Words 365 is another enormous blog, and is written mostly for parents of children in Speech Pathology. While not entirely dedicated to the late talking/early intervention population, it does have an enormous number of posts on these topics.

My pick of posts for late talkers: 25+ Best Gifts To Expand Your Child’s Speech Development {Birth To Five}

Where Language Grows

Where Language Grows is my little site where I share my knowledge and passion for working with language delayed toddlers with parents. It’s only small now, but I’m constantly adding new information for parents of late talkers to help their little one’s language to flourish.

It would be unfair to pick a favourite post of my own, so I’ll share my most popular post to date: 5 Early Language Goals to Target with Mr Potato Head


Do you have any resources you would recommend to fellow parents? Be sure to share them in the comments below.

Ask Rylie: My Nephew Isn’t Saying Much

Welcome to my first ever Ask Rylie post! Ask Rylie will be an ongoing feature here on Where Language Grows, and it will give me the opportunity to answer the burning questions you have about your little one’s communication development. If you have a question, ask me today.


My first question comes from an incredible and caring Aunt who is concerned about her nephew’s expressive language development, and how to help parents who are reluctant to see a Speech Pathologist. See her question and my response below:

Q. (1)“I have a nephew that will be 4 yrs old next September. I’ve noticed that he doesn’t say much of anything. He says mama, dayee, yes, no, no way, baby, has just started counting to ten and when he sees things he will count them. It’s really not my place to say anything because everyone is saying he is fine and will wake up talking one day which could be true but I’m not someone who does anything “wait and see”. They say they will put him in day care so he will be more social. I’m just wondering if you have any advice.”

Q.That’s a really tough position to be in. If your nephew’s parents are open to it, you could point them towards a blog post I’ve written about how many words a child should be saying by each age, including the bare minimum for each age. A little bit of information might help them to understand how behind he may be in his language development. I’ve also got a free download for parents that helps them count and record how many words their child is using, which may be something they find useful if they’re overestimating how much he’s really saying. There’s a lot of misinformation and misconceptions about late talking and communication development out there, and sometimes a little bit of information is enough to help families get the ball rolling engaging a speech pathologist.

As for day care, often enrolling a child in day care can be helpful for language development, and I’ve seen many children make some positive progress when they’re enrolled. You may find that the staff there should identify that he’s not quite where he should be in terms of his language development, and may bring up the language concern with your family as well. Sometimes another opinion, especially from someone who interacts with the child in a professional capacity, can help.

Unfortunately sometimes families aren’t in a space where they are able to hear that their child needs help. In this case, apart from giving them any resources they are willing to accept, expressing your concern, and letting them know you’re there to support and love them and their little one, at this stage there isn’t too much more you can do for them. Though I do want to say your intentions and care  for your nephew are amazing. Sometimes there are families who really are not ready to hear something like this, and/or who aren’t aware when they should be accessing help.

Thank you again to the wonderful Aunt who reached out to me to ask this question, and who was so kind as to give me permission to post it online for the benefit of others.

Ask me your question now!

Free Download: Language Stimulation Strategies for Toddlers Cheat Sheet

If you’ve been following along with this blog, you will have seen the first post in the Therapy Techniques for Late Talkers post about Modelling. I have so many techniques to talk about over the coming weeks and months, but I thought I’d make this quick and easy cheat sheet I created for my private practice available to you, to get you started with a handful of strategies while I work on the rest of the series.


Free Download - Language Stimulation Strategies for Toddlers | Where Language Grows

In this cheat sheet I’ve outlined 6 common techniques I use and teach my parents to use with their late talkers. The best part about these is they are pretty simple to implement, and you’re probably using at least some of them consciously or unconsciously already. The cheat sheet will teach you how to use these strategies for eliciting language and communication, and maybe even give you a few new tricks or considerations to help you help your little one on their way to becoming a better communicator.



Therapy Techniques for Late Talkers: Modelling

Modelling is one of the simplest and most important therapy techniques when it comes to teaching toddlers to talk. All it involves is using language for your child to hear. Simple as it is there are definitely some ways we can make it extra effective for late talkers, but if you’re talking to your little one, you’re already using modelling.

Therapy Techniques For Late Talkers - Modelling | Where Language Grows

Modelling is so important for teaching late talkers to learn language. Exposure to language is how all children develop their ability to talk, after all. Hearing words helps kids to understand, imitate and learn to use words. Hearing sentences helps children to understand and use grammar. Seeing people communicate and being communicated with helps little ones to learn how to communicate with others themselves. Modelling isn’t just for words either. Depending on your child’s stage of language development and your goals, you should be modelling gestures, signs, picture communication systems, social behaviours, and more.

Most children will learn to talk just by absorbing the natural models of language they see and hear from others. Children with communication delays, however, may need more focused modelling to help them begin to grasp language, whether that’s receptively or expressively. To use modelling effectively for late talkers who need a little extra help, I have the following tips for making modelling more effective:


Use simple language that matches your child’s communicative level

If they have little or no words, you’ll want to model mostly single words. If they have quite a few words and are putting 2 words together, use short phrases of about 3 words. One clarification I should add is you don’t need to (and shouldn’t) talk to your little one like this 100% of the time. It’s still important that late talkers and early language learners hear lots of examples of rich, complex and natural language, because this is our ultimate goal. This technique is for short 5 or so minute pockets of language stimulation in play.


Use ‘adult’ grammar

Research suggests that using sentences with poor or missing grammar is not as effective as using sentences with adult-like grammar. So for example, instead of saying “ball fall down”, you would say “the ball fell down”. Even though your child is not yet using the irregular past tense form of fall (i.e. fell), your model should.


Be repetitive

Late talkers tend to need a lot of opportunities to hear words before they are able to understand and use them, so be sure use lots of repetition, both within an moment of play, and across multiple moments of play.


Follow your child’s lead

Choose words and language to model based on what your child is interested in or is showing interest in within that moment of play. If your little one loves trains, for example, “train” and related words like “choo choo”, “tracks” and “go” would be great vocabulary to work on. Also be ready to come up with something to model on the fly, if your child is showing particular interest in something during play, which brings me to my last tip:


Be aware of where their attention is directed

It’s important to keep a close eye on what your child’s attention is on. Littlies have a cheeky habit of moving on quickly from toys and activities, and you want to make sure your model matches whatever it is they are focused on. You don’t want to be saying “ball” while they’re looking at the car.


So what wonderful language will you be modelling for your little one? Let me know in the comments below!